Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Love is ostensibly absent from this novel until its final pages, though its presence is suggested by some characters’ actions. Love masquerades as lust, possession, infatuation, envy, delusion, self-interest, romance, and even hatred. Christine mistakenly believes that her mother sent her away to school at the age of thirteen because Bill wanted her gone. In fact, the predatory sheriff noticed the beautiful girl, and Bill sent her away for her own safety. Heed, meanwhile, concocts a romantic fantasy around her relationship with Bill. Each woman mistakenly believes that by proving herself to be the true beneficiary of Bill’s will, she will prove that he loved her best. In the novel’s denouement, they both recognize that they have always loved each other.

Masculine power and sexuality are also themes in Love, in scenes of gang rape, sexual activity on Bill’s fishing boat, and racially motivated rape during the Civil Rights movement. Romen’s initial willingness to participate in a gang rape designed to prove the teenage boys’ masculinity turns to compassion for the victim, as he rescues the victim and is ridiculed by his peers. Something similar happens on the fishing boat trips, as women, and white and African American men play at role reversals, creating a counterfeit world that reinforces masculinity and white power in the real world.